Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI)

Princeton, New Jersey

Project Director: Sushama Austin-Connor

To promote and teach social justice-centered worship through proclamation, practice, and protest. 

Summarize your grant project and how it will address a need in your worshiping community.

The Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) is an intensive continuing education event for clergy and laity that includes training, worship, and fellowship. BTLI is designed to help participants deepen their thinking and preaching by learning from preeminent scholars and theologians. Our grant project is the design and implementation of an innovative year-long fellowship program to promote and teach social justice-centered worship through proclamation, practice, and protest. 

What two questions might you ask about worship in the coming year that will generate theological reflection and shape your project?

(1) How are the fullness of God, God's love, and God's call to "do justice" present in our worship? 

(2) What is God (spirit) asking of us to worship in "spirit and truth" as Jesus offers in John 4:24? Whose truth? What truths? How can we become the "true worshipers"? 

How will your project impact the worship life and habits of the congregation?

This project will nourish healthy congregational life by inspiring our bond as an Institute. Because we are not a typical local congregation, reflecting on BTLI as a worshipping community has inspired our advisory group. Participating clergy and lay leaders are our congregation. When they attend BTLI, they often take off their leader hats and allow us to lead and care for them. We minister to ministers providing space to relax, learn, and enjoy worship in a different role. We hope that they will return to their churches feeling refreshed and able to continue the yearlong work with renewal and creativity. 

What might be your greatest challenges (or challenging opportunities)?

Our greatest challenge will be the implementation of our project plans and goals in an online format and following a year where we (fellows and program leaders) have been stretched and are anticipating different versions of a "new normal." This presents a unique opportunity to collectively grieve the year and what was lost (people, live worship, singing, hugs, and much more) with other faith leaders and also for growth and reimagination of new church life. 

What do you hope to learn from the Grants Event and other grant recipients?

I am eager to hear more about other grant recipients' projects. I am excited about the creativity and diversity of ideas observable in the short descriptions. I hope to learn new ways of thinking about and enacting worship and more specifically about BTLI's worship practices and long-term work. This is BTLI's first-ever grant so I am looking forward to learning more about Calvin's grants administration and how we successfully move through the grant year. We are motivated and excited!